Where High Fashion Meets Modesty

Adi Heyman

At first glance, the fashion blog “Fabologie” looks no different than masses of other fashion blogs, with surveys of collections by luxury labels like Chanel, Celine and Burberry, a piece on the five best items of the season, a post on the military fashion trend and, of course, photos of women from various fashion shows and red-carpet events. But look just a little closer and you see that this blog is something quite different.

“Meet autumn’s chic-modest go-to: oversized knit + midi skirt,” writes the blogger, inviting readers to a special event at Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store in Soho, New York, where a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. “What better way to kick-off the Hanukkah season than retail therapy laced with benevolence?,” she asks.

There is also a piece about the modest and fashionable looks worn by various celebrities recently, and another one on the weekly Torah portion in which she urges readers to discover a new appreciation for all the aspects of our lives (including shoes!).

Welcome to the blog of Adi Heyman, an Orthodox Jew who has become the avant-garde of modest but lively fashion, and is introducing a new kind of fashion discourse in which the word tzniut (modesty) is a keystone. Heyman’s blog is aimed at modern Orthodox women who want to look fashionable without deviating from the strict rules of tzniut: knees, elbows and clavicles covered. The blog has already become a model for others of its kind, and Heyman herself is sought after by fashion magazines and blogs on street fashion, which photograph her frequently – in maxi dresses or midi skirts, in blouses with sleeves that cover the elbows, and in a blonde wig (with brown roots).

Heyman, 31, lives in New York and works in styling as a personal shopper. She was born Amber Fuller to a Christian family in San Antonio, Texas. When she was a teenager, the whole family, seeking a deeper connection with spirituality, converted to Judaism and moved to Miami to join that city’s Jewish community. In Miami, Amber changed her name.

Later on she moved to New York, where she majored in English in college, got married, began working as an assistant to a fashion and lifestyle editor, and discovered that the fashion world and the Jewish world don’t necessarily connect very easily: She worked in the fashion world but didn’t socialize much with her colleagues. Keeping kosher, she didn’t eat out with them, and on weekends she was home observing Shabbat.

It was practically a no-brainer: Start a blog that would enable her to connect the two worlds more naturally. Fabologie began in 2010 as an anonymous Facebook page on which Heyman posted pictures of fashionable modest clothing, and when that took off, she turned it into a blog. In an online interview, she says she couldn’t understand why no one before her had bridged the gap between high fashion and style, and the Jewish woman. “Fabologie was founded to fill a void, to synthesize the style industry with the Jewish lifestyle. It’s a project of passion based on my own life and experiences being an Orthodox Jew in modern Manhattan. My goal was for Jewish women to have a place to read about runway trends, yom tov [religious festival] menus, and even weekly parsha [Toras portion] through a modest, stylish curation. Fabologie embraces Judaism for all its beauty,” she says.

This attitude is evident in the many photographs of Heyman to be found on the Internet: In oversize Valentino knits, midi dresses, leather jumpers, trench coats and maxi skirts, she looks like a total fashionista. The blonde hair, cool accessories and sunglasses complete the picture. “For myself, I largely have two ways of dressing: I adore romantic maxi dresses and vintage sheaths – a bohemian vibe; I also adore a modern minimalism – fuss-free layers, statement leathers, well-tailored pieces,” she says.

On the blog she introduces trends and highlights items that reflect them. And to this end she also attends fashion shows, goes over photos from designer fashion shoots and collects looks that can pass the tzniut test. “I think fashion as a whole has shifted from a ‘skin is in’ mentality to a more thoughtful, discreet way of dressing,” she says. “Modest fashion has secured a trended spot in most clothing collections. Designers offer maxi dresses and midi skirts in the runway mix, supplying a diversified appeal for all shoppers. European designers tend to favor a more distinguished elegance, and I think this has impacted current designers across the globe.

“I love Rosie Assoulin, The Row, Valentino, Proenza Schouler, Celine, Michael Kors. Season after season, these designers have supplied a steady trendsetting for modesty. The Row favors a conservative cut, Celine resurrected the midi length, Valentino has reinvented the maxi dress, Rosie Assoulin supplies fresh, voluminous silhouettes.” Heyman’s blog is not just about clothes. Now it also includes surveys of accessories, a cooking column, sources of inspiration – along with Jewish subject matter, including the weekly Torah portion. Heyman feels there’s something deeper going on here than the connection being made between the fashion world and a religious lifestyle.

“For me, modesty begins on the inside and is reflected on the outside. It is not about season or trend, but rather a mind-set, a belief and a steadfast devotion. In this superficial world, G-d gives us an inspired opportunity to elevate the sartorial to the spiritual – to infuse meaning in the mundane. I see modesty as a gift.”

In addition to the many designers whom Heyman accords a tzniut seal of approval, the list of celebrities she cites as examples of modest fashionable dressing is not short either. One of them is socialite Olivia Palermo, star of MTV’s “The City.” Heyman is also a fan of stylist Rachel Zoe’s vintage layered look, “which speaks to a lot of Orthodox women.” And then, of course, there’s Kate Middleton and her modest royal style.

This combination of fashion, celebrity and Judaism is working quite well, apparently. Heyman says that Fabologie draws tens of thousands of readers each month, and that’s not the only indication of its success. Inspired by Heyman’s blog, lots of other blogs and websites have sprung up seeking to cover fashion and style icons in a similar modest vein. One of these is the magazine Hadar, launched in the fall of 2013.

The first Hebrew blog to deal with modest fashion, Ha’hatzait (“The Skirt”), began three years ago. “The religious public is going through a revolution,” says Miri Ben-David Levy, the woman behind the blog. “Religious women have always been elegant, they were always conscious of their appearance, largely due to the numerous events they’re always attending – family celebrations, synagogue services and more. But in the past three years there’s been a change. Nowadays, the ultra-Orthodox woman is often a working woman, she is often the breadwinner. Because of this new status she is dressing much better, because she has to take part in meetings and so on, and dress for the workplace.”

Flatter Boutique in Jerusalem is also part of the current trend. Lee Ann and Eli Homick, a couple who made aliya from the United States, opened the shop in Rehavia around Passover last year. “Before I was religious, my self-image was based on appearance,” says Lee Ann. “But as soon as I was more covered up, that sense became increasingly tied to the emphasizing the best parts of me. It’s a kind of female empowerment. It’s a matter of education, of empowerment, of showing women that they can achieve their dreams: in academics, in a career and spiritually. And the clothes they wear should serve them in this.”

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